Overcoming barriers to learning: Oregon State University successfully implements AT

Are peer notes finished? It’s a common question among the disability support professionals we have spoken to

In our latest webinar, Tracy Bentley-Townlin (Manager of Access Services) and Earlee Kerekes-Mishra (Manager of Intake, Retention and Transition) at Oregon State University (OSU) discussed the barriers to learning that peer notes created, and how they overcame them by implementing assistive technology. 


Setting the Scene at OSU:

  • 30,000 students enrolled
  • 1,300 registered with Disability Access Services (DAS)
  • Academic year 16/17 = 773 students using peer notes
  • Annual cost of note taking accommodations = $72,000

Moving Away from Peer Notes:

Following the results of student and faculty surveys, DAS were surprised to find that their note taking accommodations were not up to scratch.

Note side: OSU runs a 3 year assessment cycle to gather feedback from all stakeholders. This allows for continual improvement. Does your institution do something similar?

OSU offers a large volume of STEM subjects meaning diligent note takers with a good understanding of the subject are essential for the notes to be useful. However, faculty reported that in many cases note takers were inexperienced in the subject they were providing notes for. But with a decline in people offering to share their notes, there often wasn’t an alternative for students to turn to. 

“When I saw the notes that were going out to my disabled students…I was honestly terrified by the state of things.”

– OSU Faculty member

Students also explained that the notes they received were frequently poorly written, making them difficult to read, especially when paired with poor quality scanning.  

The quality of the notes was not the only problem. Tracy and Earlee realised that 50% of students with access to peer notes had not downloaded any notes by week 4 of the semester.

At a time when midterms had already begun, this is a serious indication that students were not engaging with the accommodation they were provided with. This makes us ask, are students able to achieve the grades they need to succeed?

Put simply, peer notes were creating significant barriers to learning because of their sheer lack of quality. In order to overcome this, OSU decided to implement AT. 


Successfully Implementing AT

After successfully piloting Sonocent and LiveScribe pens, DAS decided to change tack when it came to offering note-taking accommodations to new students. AT became the default accommodation provided, with peer notes being assigned on a case-by-case basis.

Two years after implementing AT, OSU has seen a 71% decrease in the number of students using peer notes. A positive and unintentional effect of this change has been that DAS has been able to save $29,000 annually on their note taking accommodations. 

To gain feedback from students about the impact it has had on them and their studies, Tracy and Earlee created a user survey. 70% of respondents stated that they believed using Sonocent has positively impacted their grades. 

“I have felt better prepared than I was trying to keep up with classroom peers”

– OSU student

“The potential to record lectures decreases my stress levels”

– OSU student

Future Plans

Although OSU has seen great success with both Sonocent and LiveScribe over the past couple of years, they still believe there is more to be done. 

Partner with other departments such as Academic Success and TRIO to pass on AT knowledge so more students can reap the benefits.

Market note taking accommodations at orientation.

Provide more drop-in training sessions at the beginning of the term, helping students become comfortable with AT from the outset. 


Learn More

Have you found that peer notes are no longer an effective note taking accommodation? Follow the link below to find out more about the benefits of using AT and how Sonocent could work at your institution.

Learn how Sonocent could work at your institution - Find out more


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